Person holding turned-on silver iPhone displaying Liverpool weather forecast

UK remains unprepared in the face of rising temperatures

With weather forecasts predicting warmer temperatures in the UK in the coming weeks, the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths is expected to increase.

The 2024 Europe report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change identified a 30.8% increase in heat-related deaths per 100,000 people between the periods of 2003-2012 and 2013-2022. The number of people per 100,000 estimated to die as a result of health-related issues between these periods increased from 50.8 to 68.

Climate change continues to impact the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Studies from the World Meteorological Organization and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service show that temperatures reached record highs worldwide in 2023, with Europe warming twice as fast as the global average rate. This has contributed to the increase in health-related mortality within the continent. 

Heat-related illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. While there are ways to protect oneself against heat-related illnesses such as staying hydrated, exposure to severe or prolonged periods of heat and humidity may lead to death. 

Rising temperatures and the increasing frequency of heatwaves, or extended periods of abnormally hot weather, threaten global health security. Scientists, academics, and climate experts are urging governments to implement policy meant to mitigate or adapt to climate change impacts. 

According to a 2023 UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) report, the UK experienced its eighth warmest summer on record in 2023, with an estimated 2,295 heat-related deaths across the season. The report also notes that rising temperatures in the UK will lead to up to 10,000 deaths per year due to extreme heat by the 2050s. 

There is currently no National Heat Resilience Strategy in the UK. Leading a Parliamentary report, Oxford University researchers have been at the forefront of efforts to persuade the UK government to implement a holistic resilience strategy, particularly in the face of heatwaves.

The heatwaves of summer 2022 brought increased attention to the UK’s unpreparedness to deal with rising temperatures. The heatwaves placed extra stress on health services, as well as other energy and transportation resources. During the September 2023 heatwaves, Oxfordshire experienced a spike in ambulance demand of more than 8%.

Now, the Met Office, the UK’s national weather and climate service, is predicting that 2024 could be the hottest year on record, with temperatures in some cities set to be between 30°C and 33°C. Three heatwaves are anticipated to occur throughout June. At the same time, the Met Office’s long-range forecast reports a chance of a wetter-than-average summer, further demonstrating how global warming is contributing to more erratic weather conditions. 

Still, as temperatures continue to rise, the UK remains ill-prepared to deal with the pressures that climate change places on socio-economic development and energy networks. The UKHSA estimates that costs from heat-related mortality and related socio-economic changes in England could amount to £14.7 billion per year in the 2050s.

The climate crisis is directly impacting the UK, with rising temperatures leading to more frequent and severe high-temperature extremes. This heat affects people’s health and livelihood, placing further strain on different sectors of society. While individuals may protect themselves against high temperatures to some capacity, policymakers are being urged to consider greater heat resiliency initiatives. 

Image Credit: Gavin Allanwood via Unsplash

Image Description: Person holding turned-on silver iPhone displaying Liverpool weather forecast